Encourage Effort Over Outcome

Sometimes, well-intentioned teachers and parents create new problems by giving more praise and rewards than a child can accept. Gushy praise and extravagant rewards tend to detract from the pleasure of intrinsic satisfaction. The child receiving the praise or reward may feel I’m not really that great. I don’t deserve this.   Sometimes a child will revert to negative behavior to reveal her true self to you.

In addition, when a child hears how smart or cute or athletic she is, the child may decide that due to her enormous talent, looks, or skills, she does not have to work very hard at a related task. In truth, no matter how high one’s IQ, there will be times when nothing champions the benefits of hard work. Nothing builds self-esteem as well as knowing one worked hard. Stress the child’s effort by saying, You worked hard on this project. You should feel good about all the energy you gave.

Even if the result is a low grade or a heartbreaking disappointment, hard work can be appreciated and acknowledged. Try saying You can feel good about your work and integrity. You gave it your best.

Praise That Burdens

The following examples, which rely on adjectives, sometimes become burdens for a child. The statement may be too much to live up to or too overwhelming to be believable.

  • You’re the smartest. . . cutest. . . fastest child I know!
  • You’re a great athlete. . . artist. . . writer.
  • You are always so sweet.
  • You’re the favorite!
  • You never let me down.
  • You’re a born genius!  
  • There’s no way you will lose!
  • Your grandparents are coming to see your game. I know you can hit a home run for them!
  • I told everyone at work how smart you are!
  • Everybody thinks you’re the greatest kid around!

Honest Encouragement with Weight on Effort

When you use encouragement and shift the emphasis to the work involved, the child finds the comment honest and justifiable. Yes, I really did work hard on. . .

The following examples inspire intrinsic values and feelings of worth. Notice the emphasis on the child and how the child feels rather than on what you think or feel. In addition, many of the comments below focus on the effort involved rather than the outcome.

  • You must feel good that you were able to. . .
  • Can you see your own progress? Good for you!
  • That’s a good point!
  • Good job working on — math. . . reading. . . cleaning your desk.
  • You are thinking. You used a good thought process.
  • You really are — improving. . . earning. . . getting stronger!
  • You worked hard on this.
  • This project was hard work for you. I’ll bet it felt good to notice your effort.
  • It’s fun to work with you on . . .
  • You must have listened well during math.

Elliott Working Out

The encouragement, stresses the importance of doing — thinking — putting in the effort. In particular, noticing effort builds inner strength. Please notice the lack of adjectives such as smart, beautiful, or athletic.